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Valerie Taylor

Computer science and engineering professor Valerie E. Taylor was born on May 24, 1963. She attended Purdue University where she received her B.S. degree in computer and electrical engineering in 1985 and her M.S. degree in electrical engineering in 1986. She continued her education at the University of California at Berkeley where she received her Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1991.

That same year, Taylor joined the faculty at Northwestern University as an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. She became an associate professor in 1997 and then a full professor in 2002. In 2003, Taylor transferred to Texas A&M University where she was named head of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering as well as the Stewart & Stevenson Professor. Since 2004, Taylor has been the Royce E. Wisenbaker Professor and head of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Her research interests lie in high performance computing. Taylor is currently working on “Prophesy,” a database used to collect and analyze data to predict the performance on different applications on parallel systems. She has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the “OptiPuter” and “New Approaches to Human Potential Realization through Information Technology Research” as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) University Research, Engineering and Technology Institutes (URETI) Program for “Nanoelectronics.” Currently, she is funded by the National Science Foundation to use Prophesy in conjunction with two other tools for the purpose of exploring the performance and power for applications on current parallel systems.

In 2001, Taylor received the Pathbreaker Award from the Women in Leadership at Northwestern University and the Hewlett Packard Harriet B. Rigas Education Award. The following year, Taylor was named a Young Outstanding Leader by the University of California, Berkeley’s Distinguished Engineering Alumni Society. That same year she also received the Computing Research Association’s (CRA) A. Nico Habermann Award for outstanding contributions aimed at increasing the numbers and/or successes of underrepresented groups in the computing research community. She has also been recognized as a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer and in 2005, Taylor was given the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science, and Diversifying Computing. Since 2008, Taylor has served on the Board of Directors for the Computing Research Association.

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Purdue University

University of California, Berkeley

Maria High School

St. Leo Elementary School

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What's up?

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Speakers Bureau Region City

Bryan/College Station



Favorite Food

Greens (Collard), Smoked Turkey

Short Description

Computer scientist and engineering professor Valerie Taylor (1963 - ) studies high performance computing, with particular emphasis on the performance analysis and modeling of parallel and distributed applications.


Northwestern University

Texas A&M University

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Valerie Taylor's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Valerie Taylor lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Valerie Taylor describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Valerie Taylor talks about Emancipation Day and the differences between the South and the North

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Valerie Taylor talks about her mother's growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Valerie Taylor describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Valerie Taylor talks about her father's growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Valerie Taylor talks about her father's career and interest in music

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Valerie Taylor talks about how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Valerie Taylor describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Valerie Taylor talks about her household and describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Valerie Taylor talks about her childhood home and neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Valerie Taylor describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Valerie Taylor talks about her childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Valerie Taylor talks about her elementary school experience

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Valerie Taylor talks about her father's company, Sonicraft

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Valerie Taylor talks about her developing interest in technology and her father's company, Sonicraft

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Valerie Taylor talks about her childhood television

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Valerie Taylor talks about the social atmosphere of Maria High School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Valerie Taylor talks about the politics around education in Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Valerie Taylor talks about her experience at Maria High School

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Valerie Taylor talks about the racial climate in Chicago during her adolescence

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Valerie Taylor talks about her high school teachers and the ID program sponsored by IIT

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Valerie Taylor talks about her decision to attend Purdue University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Valerie Taylor talks about her social life, her peers, and the National Society of Black Engineers at Purdue University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Valerie Taylor talks about the importance of study groups

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Valerie Taylor talks about her professors and mentor at Purdue University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Valerie Taylor talks about her decision to pursue her Ph.D. degree

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Valerie Taylor talks about her experience living in California

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Valerie Taylor talks about her Ph.D. advisor at the University of California at Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Valerie Taylor talks about her dissertation research concerning parallel computing and finite analysis

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Valerie Taylor talks about her experience defending her dissertation

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Valerie Taylor talks about her involvement in the Black Engineering and Science Students' Association

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Valerie Taylor talks about her decision to become a professor at Northwestern University

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Valerie Taylor talks about her experience as a professor

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Valerie Taylor talks about receiving the National Science Foundation Investigator Award

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Valerie Taylor talks about balancing family with her career

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Valerie Taylor talks about Prophesy

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Valerie Taylor talks about GriPhyN and AADMLS

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Valerie Taylor talks about her professional awards and outreach activities

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Valerie Taylor talks about Richard Tapia

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Valerie Taylor talks about her perceptions of Texas

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Valerie Taylor talks about the Institute of African American E-Culture

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Valerie Taylor talks about her experience as department chair at Texas A&M University

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Valerie Taylor talks about the NASA URETI Program and the OptIPuter

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Valerie Taylor talks about her awards and professional affiliations

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Valerie Taylor talks about her research

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Valerie Taylor talks about her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Valerie Taylor reflects upon her legacy and life choices

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Valerie Taylor talks about her family

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Valerie Taylor talks about being a single mom

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Valerie Taylor reflects on how she would like to be remembered







Valerie Taylor talks about her developing interest in technology and her father's company, Sonicraft
Valerie Taylor talks about her experience as a professor
So did you get involved in early programs in technology for youth when you were in grade school, or did it add them later, or--$$Well, I think we were, as children we were exposed to technology through my father's [Willie James Taylor] company. So, for example when I was young, my mother [Ollie Mae Thompson Taylor], that's when my mother went back to school, first at Kennedy King Community College and then National, in terms of getting her degree. And so, on Saturdays my father would take us to work with him. And it's funny, because my sister and I, first we would be at his desk acting like we were secretaries, writing on paper, okay. But then, you slowly ventured to the electronics bench, okay. And so, when you mentioned about smell, one smell that comes to mind is that of a soldering iron. I can tell that smell anywhere because it's something I grew up smelling, you know, going to work with my father on Saturdays. Because oftentimes he would go in, not to work on paperwork, but to be at the bench building something such that when I was in high school, I was very familiar with schematics. I was familiar with breadboard. I could look at a schematic and build a breadboard. And I just thought that was the norm. I could work on bikes (laughter). You were used to having a volt meter around to see if something were connected. You just knew, go get the volt meter and see if you have a current through. (laughter). That was our norm, and for example, in our house, my father built our first speaker. It was nice. Everybody talked about that. The sound from the speaker--and he also built our first record player. So, for a long time our record player had vacuum tubes, okay, where we had to jingle the vacuum tube, and you knew the record player was on because the filament lit up in the vacuum tube, okay. So, everything was, all the electronics were exposed. So, you'd jiggle it: "Okay, the record player's on, play the record." And so, it wasn't until I was high school that we got this record player where everything was enclosed. And I was like, "Dad, where are the vacuum tubes?" (laughter). He'd say, "We have transistors now." (laughter). So, we, I think we grew up with technology, but not knowing it as such, but you just grew up thinking this was the norm. And he always taught you, he would take time to teach you how to fix something. Or, he would say, you know, you would say "Oh, this is broken." And he would go, "Go get the screwdriver." And you knew what a Phillips versus a flathead was, and "Go get the Phillips, let's take it apart and let's see what's going on." And it may be something with the wires. And so, that, that was Dad and that was the norm. So I think all of us, my sister and brother--currently if something's broken, you go, "Get the Phillips, see what's going on, maybe it can be fixed." (laughter). You know, that's your first thought. I think now it's funny because my mother is like "Can't you call a repairman because you know it takes a little while for your father to get to stuff. Go ahead and call." (laughter). But, he'll fix anything first. Uh huh.$$That sounds like an engineer.$$Yes, so we did grow up with technology.$$Now, Sonicraft was the first black technology company to, you know, bring down big government contracts.$$Yes.$$They're well known. I mean, people heard the name. I didn't know your father, but I heard of the name Sonicraft. There's some people, you know, doing this deep technology for the government. And I said wow. Then I met Carl Spite at one point.$$Oh yes, uh huh.$$He was working with Sonicraft. So, it was exciting to a lot of people just to think that we had a company that could do that, because a lot of black people didn't imagine that we had anyone in deep technology.$$Right.$$And so, it was a thrill and, you know, for us to even think about that. (laughter).$$It was. And, but my mother, my mother kept it real, okay. So, and it was interesting, because my father, when George Bush 41 was vice-president under [President Ronald] Reagan, my father went to the White House because of the contract they received from the government. So, we have a picture of him with at that time vice-president Bush.$$Right, right. I saw it yesterday actually standing in front of the White House.$$Yes. So, it's--$$The Sonicraft staff--$$Right. So, it's really phenomenal. And they hired engineers from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and it was great, the work that was being done there. So, my father, all of us grew up with Sonicraft. So, my brother, my sister, myself, we all worked at Sonicraft, and our friends. Because my mother's view is if she came home from work during the summer and we were sitting around the house, we had to get a job. Because my mother said, "I'm not coming home to people lounging." And if we had friends over, they had to get a job. So they knew if they came by the house, they had to get a job. (laughter). And she would always tell my father, "Please get the kids a job. So, that way, they'd come home at five, having worked a day." So, when you were eligible to work at sixteen, we were working at Sonicraft.$$Okay, okay.$$Uh huh. And even after my brother graduated with his degree, he worked at Sonicraft. My sister, after she finished with her degree in information systems, she worked at Sonicraft for some time. Her husband, at that time they were just dating, he worked at Sonicraft during the summer as a summer intern while he was in college. So, everybody in our circle, you know, at one summer or another you went through Sonicraft. And it was, it was great.$And we have your comment in the outline that you made that you were, that there was never an image of a black woman professor in your mind, because you'd never seen one.$$Right.$$In all your years in school, you never saw a black woman professor, in college anyway.$$No, so I've never had a black woman professor stand in front of me. So, I went to Northwestern in October of '91' [1991] and I started teaching in January. And so, I went to Janet before teaching, and I'm going, "Janet, what earrings do I wear, how do I look? Do I wear something ethnic? You know, what should I look like in front of the class?" And so, she just laughed and she said, "Yourself." And I go, "But, Janet. You know, and it comes to mind, I've never seen a black woman stand in front of me, so I don't know what it looks like, and I don't know how that person will be received by the students." So, it was very overwhelming, you know, to prepare for the first lecture in class. And you worried about all these different things, because you never had that image before.$$Okay.$$And it really goes to the heart of having those images, uh huh. Because then you could say, this worked, this didn't. And without those images, I didn't know what worked and what didn't. And you know, and that was the reason for asking the question, you know, can you wear something ethnic? You know, how are you being perceived? And so, you know, being yourself, yes, but you, you know, it's a wide range that you have. Because it's not where you wear all ethnic clothes, and you wear big earrings, little earrings, you know, jewelry. What do you wear? Do you wear slacks, skirts? So, it's all these options. And you're just going, you know, what worked and what didn't?$$So did you strike a balance in terms of--$$Yes, over time I began to feel comfortable wearing what I wanted to wear and not what I perceived I should be wearing. And so, because if I feel comfortable in how I look, then it comes across in what I'm doing, that comfort. Because you feel comfortable with the material, and I have no problems with being questioned and how to deal with questions, because I think at Berkeley you're constantly being questioned. And so, your assumption is that if people ask a lot of questions, that means they're engaged. If I give a presentation and I don't get that many questions, I think that's a bad presentation, because that meant that people did not find it interesting enough to challenge me in some way. So, it's not where questions--that I wanted to avoid questions--but it was just the perception of how you're perceived as an instructor. So it was, I think it took probably about a semester, and then I felt comfortable.$$Okay. So--$$And I wore bright colors. (laughter). I wore what I wanted to wear.